14 July 2006

Phu Tho Incident #2

The second Phu Tho incident happened some time after April 30, 1975. For us Vietnamese Southerners, the date of April 30, 1975 has a special meaning - it was the Fall of Saigon, when the South Vietnam government was no longer and the country was completely run by Communist. I am sure the incident occurred after April 30, 1975 because the incident involved a toy rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). Better known as the B-40, the RPG was a common firepower the Viet Cong used against U.S. tanks and such. The real B-40 is shoulder-fired, i.e. one would rest in on one's shoulder and fire the grenade from there. My toy B-40 would fit a miniature G.I. Joe toy better, as in my hands it was more like a pistol. It was completely functional, complete with a detachable grenade that can be launched when the trigger is pulled. But that's all there was, this was 1970s Viet Nam so the toy didn't have electronic sounds or light-emitting diodes like some of today's toys.

Remember Mrs. Kam who joined the search for me when I went MIA from Sung Chin school? Her second child is a boy named Ch and he is my age so we were somewhat good friends back then, or at least we played together a lot. So one day, Ch and I both had a toy B-40 and we were shooting ants in the hallway of our D Block building. No, I doubt if we actually killed any, the impact of the toy grenade wouldn't be powerful enough to maim any ants. The most the toy grenades would do were knock the ants out of formation. After a while Ch was bored and came up with the idea that we should go to Phu Tho Racetrack. To an inner-city boy like me, Phu Tho was like the countryside, somewhat of an exotic place. No buildings, muddy paths, overgrown grasses, etc., an exciting place to be. So off we went for who know how long, but by the time we got home it was dark. My father was waiting for me and gave me a sound beating shortly afterward. Amid all the beating and my wailing, I cannot remember who said what but basically I was told that Phu Tho was a dangerous place to be. Supposedly there were landmines leftover from the war and I could have stepped on them. Honestly, I cannot recall if I was told of the landmines earlier or not. Whatever. The physical pain of course was real, but to make it worse, Ch's parents didn't do anything to him. It seemed unfair at the time, but I suppose different people raise their children differently. I must admit I resort to corporal punishment with my son on some rare occasion, but definitely not as often as it was meted out to me by my parents back then. Again, that was the norm in 1970s Viet Nam, maybe even now. I am sure Phu Tho Incident #2 wasn't the only time I got whipped, but it happened to be a more memorable one.

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